Breaking the code of ethicsThe publicized taped conversations between a liberal YouTube channel reporter and Kim Keon-hee — the wife of the opposition People Power Party (PPP) presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol — have triggered much talk and debate. Leaving aside the judgment on the controversial remarks made by Kim in the phone conversations, the reporter’s attitude cannot be deemed compliant with journalism ethics. He claims he clarified his identity from the beginning. But referring to Kim as “sister” and asking how much he could earn if he accepts a job offer from her cannot be normal. He even offered to give away files on Chung Dae-taik engaged in a court battle with Kim’s mother to help her win the court battle. He claims to have taped the phone calls “to build up trust.”
MBC — a public broadcaster subsidized with tax funds —overlooked the abnormality in the taping. A YouTube channel run by individuals could lack ethics that can be found in traditional journalism. The individuals can reveal the taped conversation on their own risk-taking.
But MBC aired the conversations that were not recorded by its own reporters to “help voters make a right judgment” on a family member of a candidate running for public office. The terrestrial broadcaster edited the versions without clarifying the grounds and how it verified the content. MBC merely sought viewership from the sensational piece.
Many political YouTubers unleash unverified information. They violate privacy and do not bother to hear out the other side’s story. Both liberal and conservative content merely chases sensationalism to make money.
Mainstream media shares the responsibility for the falling credibility of the press. They have come under servitude of portal sites and post sensational titles and articles to draw readers and clicks. Readers and viewers now cannot find the difference between traditional media and social media. Mainstream press must restore credibility to reduce the damage from the floods of misinformation and unverified claims.
The challenges in the media environment have been common across the globe. But conflicts across class, generation, gender and regions in Korea run particularly deep as seen in the presidential race. Many turn to mobile phones to view news and content, but the bias has deepened due to algorithms that recommend and expose content seen before.
To ease polarization that precludes compromise, media education across the ages must be provided to help individuals build judgement to filter out information. Platform providers must also exercise greater liability. “Truth like light blinds. Falsehood on the contrary is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object,” Albert Camus famously said. The latest controversy with Kim should raise the alarm on the temptation of falsehoods.